Notes From The Margin

March 22, 2008

We are the middle class….

We were having a chat this afternoon about a Laugh it Off skit from this year’s prodution called “We are the middle class…” which while being very funny takes a very sharp aim at those members of the middle class who have “the big ride” but no money to put gas in it, or who have platinum credit cards (which are maxed out) or who drive soooves (SUV’s).

I was thinking that the middle class in Barbados is perhaps the most hated socio economic group in the islands social milieu. They are constantly pilloried by the “working class” for “forgetting where they came from”, by the “upper classes” for being “social climbers”, by Cave Hill academics as being “petite bourgeois”, by politicians as being somehow “not as bajan” as the “working” class. There is constantly the insinuation that somehow they ought to be ashamed of wanting to live in a nice house, in nice neighborhood and to drive a nice car, or that they did something illegal or immoral to achieve whatever they have.

This goes further, the tax structure in Barbados shields the poor (hell it even gives a reverse tax credit to the poor) and those in the “upper classes” have all sorts of advice from accountants on how to avoid (note I did NOT say evade) paying taxes. The result of this is that income tax in Barbados is paid by the poor sod who works as an employee for a salary (given the exemptions usually a supervisors salary or higher) in short income tax is paid by the middle class.

And no politician dares to be caught giving concessions to the middle class! The poor or “working” class are the politician’s stock in trade in getting the media spotlight. Concessions are given for investment by businesses “to promote growth in employment” but when was the last time you heard a politician crowing about how he was going to help out the guys in the middle?

 The thing is…..

when I think about the middle class people that I know, they are almost all diligent people who work damn hard for a living, they pay their taxes and follow the rules. They do without so that they have something to put away for the future. They are likely to live not just for their future but for their children’s future. They (in many cases) went to UWI in Cave Hill although some were fortunate enough to travel overseas to study (even if only to Jamaica or Trinidad).

Despite being most often accused of “forgetting where they come from” I’ve found that most of them are well aware of where they came from, but more often than not their focus is on “where they are going” and if you follow their lives and careers there is a steady progression towards that goal.

So rather than bashing the middle class, perhaps the next time you hear this type of conversation going on try to relate it to people that you know rather than some amorphous group, ask yourself who are the middle class?

You might be surprised to find out that WE are the middle class..



March 18, 2008

Welcome to the 5 year long election campaign!

When the dust settled on January 16th the two parties ended up being quite far apart on number of seats but actually quite close on total number of votes cast. With only an 8% difference in terms of total votes, it means that the current government is vulnerable to a 4% swing. This means that despite a comfortable majority in Parliament, the Thompson administration must politically plan from now with an eye to elections in 2013. It also means that the Mottley opposition is already keeping an eye on that year.

As a result of this we are likely to see Mr. Thompson trying to attack what has long been perceived as the BLP’s strongest point; it’s management of the economy. The BLP for it’s part will pick at every flaw in the government’s actions.

This leads to the  ludicrousness of things such as Government suddenly becoming skeptical about unemployment statistics despite never having said a word about it before or during the campaign. It certainly was not a part of their platform. They are not releasing those figures because it will reinformce the BLP’s perception of good governance.

For the BLP’s part, this whole “We don’t know why the government won’t work with our consultants” is laughable. They damn well know why and they would do the same if they were in office as well.

What it amounts to is that we are in for a five year long election campaign, with the cut and thrust of January continuing at a lower intensity until 2013

Strap yourselves in, it’s going to be a wild ride!


March 10, 2008

Is Rihanna Ambassador Material?

Filed under: Barbados,Barbados Media,Caribbean,culture,entertainment,Government,Media,Rihanna,tourism — notesfromthemargin @ 9:34 pm

We came across a thought provoking article in the South Florida Times which was talking about the recent award of “Cultural Ambassador” status to Rihanna by Barbados. The article makes some thought provoking reading.

However the author then goes on to list possible downsides….
While the article concludes positively, we got to thinking that it ignores a salient point. At the moment Rihanna is an ambassador for Barbados whether she has the honorary title or is just a citizen. She is the ONLY entertainer on the world stage publicly identified with the country, and is in fact quite often the only point of reference that many people have.  If you talk to people who market Barbados they indicate that Rihanna has introduced Barbados to a range of people who had never heard of the island before. As a result of this we are inextricably tied to Ms. Fenty.
We could do a whole lot worse for an ambassador… and more to the point Rihanna recognises this tie and seems to embrace it with relish. (She didn’t have to big up the island in her acceptance speech) So yes there are risks in honoring a 20 year old, but we are taking that risk whether we accord Ms. Fenty the ceremonial title or not.

February 28, 2008

Hartley Henry Tries To Blame BLP For Rihanna Tribute Mess Up

We REALLY hadn’t wanted to blog on the whole Rihanna/KB Kleen Fiasco, we had hoped that much like the whole “hairdo” controversy it would fade in to the general background noise of life in Barbados. However an op ed column by Government campaign strategist Hartley Henry has brought KB Kleen to Margin.

We really had no problem in how he started the column…

Owing to commitments abroad, I was not among the multitude, but I got a “blow by blow” account of the Independence Square megaevent. It is because I heard and understood clearly what transpired that I am calling on the critics to “ease up off KB Kleen“. I accept his unconditional apology.

Today, he stands ten feet taller in my sight.

So far we agree whole heartedly with him. Kevin Hinds has done the correct thing, clearly there was a screw up. Rather than trying to defend it he apologised unreservedly. We should accept it and move on.


Then Mr. Henry goes on to attempt to build a case that Kevin Hinds is the end result of years of mismanagement of the cultural industries under the BLP.

The Ministry of Culture and its offspring the National Cultural Foundation have been rudderless for close to two decades. Mediocrity abounded during a period when success was measured in terms of gate receipts and tourist arrivals.(edit)

Now here’s our problem with this…
An MC does not run or produce a show, whoever the producer of the Rihanna tribute was must bear the ultimate responsibility for EVERYTHING that happened at the event (good and bad). We know that WHATEVER the cultural environment of the past 14 years that there is a history of successful events of this type, so clearly the skill exist on island to produce “world class” shows. If the emcee was out of line, the producer or stage manager should have taken him in hand immediately and reigned him in.
Kevin Hinds has done the honorable thing, yes this was a screw up, he acknowleged it, apologised and let the matter rest. The producers of the show have stayed hidden in the background and left Kevin to twist in the wind. They should come forward and take responsibility for what happened on the night of the tribute, apologise and then we can all move on.
To have a government spin doctor attempt to shift that responsibility to a political opponent who had no involvement in the event is not only ridiculous, it’s insulting.
Mr. Henry should know better.

February 17, 2008

Does Barbados Need An Industrial Court?

I run a small business (approx. 10 employees) if this general strike comes off next week it will cost me a significant amount of money. I have no part in this BWU/Royal Shop/Sandy Lane, and yet I will suffer a direct economic consequence of what is a Union action! In theory the Union must carry some civil liability for this cost, but in reality there is no way that I can recover this cost.

Why should I (along with everyone else) be penalised for one company’s perceived intransigence? The threat of a general strike is irresponsible and shows why we need to have an industrial court in this country.

Small Business Owner

Above is a comment by a small business owner and he asks what in our opinion is a valid question.

Historically industrial relations in Barbados has relied on a system of volunteerism. That is that collective agreements aren’t actually legal contracts but are considered to be more along the lines of “gentlemen’s agreements”; that is that either side can breach the agreement at will. Collective agreements are usually enforced by the relative power of the union and the business owner. Now here’s the funny thing… as INSANE as this system may sound, in Barbados it has actually worked! While industrial courts are well established throughout rest of the Caribbean, we in Barbados continue to function on a volunteerism basis, and have had a relatively stable IR climate for a long period of time. ‘

Now of course there are certain features of the Barbados system that make this workable, you have a very small number of very large powerful unions, and you also have a relatively homogeneous private sector. This has meant that historically, everyone knew the rules and how the game was played and everyone was prepared to give and take to make the overall system work.

Now in 2008 we still have a small number of large unions, however the private sector is no longer as monolithic as it was in the past. We have new international investors, we have regional investors, we have relatively new local players. In short we have people who are accustomed to functioning a more “rules based” industrial relations culture. They don’t know how we play the game “’bout here”

This of course leads to all sorts of complications, issues of recognition, issues of wildcat strikes. The Sandy Lane Showdown is a prime example of this. Is there a penalty for workers breaching the collective agreement? Where historically local employers have accepted the occasional wildcat strike as par for the course, someone accustomed to an environment where collective agreements are contracts will expect to be able to terminate wildcat strikers for “abandoning the job”.

Issues such as this will continue to come up. So we on the margin ask the question

Is it time that we retired the volunteerism system?

Do we now NEED an industrial court?

We think it deserves serious consideration.


February 14, 2008

The Royal Rumble…..

Well after simmering for a few weeks the Royal Shop Vs. Barbados Workers Union is beginning to bubble. On the one hand the owner of the Royal Shop insists it is a straightforward case of a worker refusing to follow a reasonable instruction on the other hand the BWU is maintaining that the worker in question was fired for trying to organise the Royal Shop workforce.

The drama has rolled on through several acts, with allegations of untruths and insults being thrown around, the parties have met several times and there has been no shifting of positions. The latest salvo in the firestorm has the union reaching for perhaps its biggest gun, that of a national strike.

Now the Union actually doesn’t have many cards to play against the Royal Shop, there is no other unionised workforce there that it can call out, so it can’t stop the store from working. Further because of the smallness of the operation it can be run by literally a few people, so in a worst case scenario the owner can run it with friends and family. The stock of the store is high value, and brought in by individual courier so the union can’t say it’s not handling cargo consigned to the Royal Shop at the port. The shop’s main customers are tourists so it’s business is unlikely to suffer from a withdrawal of custom from Barbadian customers. That leaves the Union pretty much in the position of having to use the labour relations equivalent of an atom bomb to squash the proverbial cockroach.

However the Union should exercise some care with the idea of a national strike, while Bajans will support the idea of freedom of association in theory and in practice while it costs them nothing, the Union may well find that their support wavers if it suddenly starts becoming personally inconvenient to the average man in the street.

A national strike is in no one’s best interest, we on the margin would urge both sides to return to the bargaining table and let cool heads prevail.


February 11, 2008

What will the cultural academics say about Rihanna when the history of this time is written?

Well it’s old news by now that Rihanna has won her first Grammy. We on the margin are thrilled for her and once again renew our call for some form of national recognition for the songstress. Congratulations to her once more for her achievement.

But we got to thinking about the long term for Ms. Fenty… and we asked ourselves the question:

What will the Bajan cultural academics say about Rihanna when the history of this time is written?

Those slobs like us on the Margin think its great that someone from “bout here” could attain so much in such a short space of time at such a young age. But I can hear the linguistic gymnastics going on already in some quarters….

What does it say about the Barbados “music industry” if the most successful performer to emerge from the island simply bypassed the entire industry? We’ve heard at least one comment that she never sang in the “teen talent contest” We can hear lots of lip service from all and sundry about the development of a “music industry” but really how many international artists has it produced? It’s enough to make one question the relevance of the local scene.

There are many “managers” out there who say they manage artists, but some of them have been doing it for years and haven’t had the success that Rihanna has achieved in a relatively short space of time. It does beg the question… what are they doing wrong?

Let’s face it Rihanna’s music is pop music, written for a global audience, what does it say about the people who have spent years trying to find “the next reggae” (we won’t even talk about the “bring back spouge” crowd) What are the cultural implications of that? I’m sure some academic somewhere is tearing his hair out looking for some sort of “cultural linkage” to hang a paper on.

And while we are at it, the academics are quick to talk about “a strong cultural identity” being important for success (and yes Bob Marley is trotted out to support this) But here we have an artist, who speaks with a Bajan accent, and pays homage to her homeland at every opportunity but is clearly now a citizen of the world. Next to her many of the local artists look…. well…. “local”.

We’re not decrying the local music industry, but there are loads of “armchair experts” who are quick to talk about what should be done and what Rihanna should do. “We don’t want a Sony or EMI taking our artists” we heard one say on the radio today. There are only so many labels with the power to create a superstar. Even Prince ended up re signing with Universal after trying to go it alone. Rather than trying to create an entirely new music industry, perhaps we would get further if we worked on linking local talent to the international industry.

Just a thought….


January 10, 2008

Politicians, It’s One Week Before Elections, Do You Know Where Your Vote Is?

With one week left to go before elections, Barbados is in the grips of one of the most intense election campaigns in recent memory. The two parties’ campaigns appear to be evenly matched, and evenly funded, and to a certain extent evenly supported. We on the Margin have been watching the silly season unfold in all its glory, and we have to admit we are unable to predict a winner at this stage.

Yes, if you listen to Waiting In Vain and Royal Rumble and the other party hacks that inhabit the blogosphere, they all predict a resounding victory for their particular party. But having spent the last week talking to many people, we think that both parties are “Whistling past the graveyard”. For as much bluster as either side makes we’re not sure that either of them has captured the hearts of the electorate.  Barbadians are looking at both parties with a skeptical eye and the hard truth is that this election could go either way.

What we have noted that this campaign has been more about accusations and counter accusations rather than issues. We would like to see some serious discussion about both parties’ visions for the next five years. While we wish that we could say that we thought we would get such reasoned debate in the next next week, we really don’t think so. We think that this next week will get wilder and dirtier with each passing day.

We on the margin would urge Barbadians,  think long and hard about both parties before you go into the polling booth. Whoever you choose is entirely up to you, but be sure to participate, be sure to cast your x. Be sure to treat that decision with the seriousness it deserves.  Hopefully we will all be better off for your doing so.


September 21, 2007

Barbados Rocks!

Filed under: Barbados,Barbados Media,Caribbean,culture,Internet,Media,tourism,You Tube — notesfromthemargin @ 12:38 am

A video on You Tube generating almost a thousand comments is “Barbados Rocks” by GIR2007 who vacationed here earlier this year. I have to admit it’s pretty cool

GIR2007’s comments and the lyrics are:


“A chilled out story about my holiday in Barbados. When I got there, I knew I had to make a video about it, so that you YouTubers could experience it with me. No stop motion this time I’m afraid, but ‘the furries’ will be back 🙂 Please leave me a comment and rate.”

The video has been viewed more than115,000 times and has generated at least 3 other versions by other people including a honeymoon slide show (get your mind out of the gutter 😀 ) and a classical piano version. Maybe someone should tell the tourist board about this one!

August 12, 2007

With Respect Sargeant Reid… We Disagree

In response to bandleaders calls for Defence Force soldiers to take part in security arrangements and for tighter security generally on the road. The President of the Barbados Police Association Station Sargeant Hartley Reid, launched a broadside on the bandleaders and their requests.


Speaking yesterday at a Press conference at police headquarters, James Street, president Hartley Reid said he was “extremely peeved” that the force’s “herculean efforts” had gone unnoticed during the just ended
Crop-Over season. Furthermore, he said some individuals had instead sought to blow some issues “way out of proportion”.

His comments were in response to a threat made by band leaders earlier this week to boycott the season next year if their demands for greater police presence on the road were not met. But Reid declared BAM’s outlook
of “doom and gloom” was “unfounded and irrational” and emphasised that the force “would not be dictated to by any reveller or their band leader”.


“There is no free policing. If the revellers and their leaders want police
to accompany them band for band along the way, they will pay.

Sargeant Reid’s outright dismissal of the Band leaders’ issues, is one more instance of an arrogant high handed attitude by an officer of the Royal Barbados Police Force. Further the Sargeant’s single minded refusal to see beyond the concerns of the constabulary was stunning.

Addressing a charge by Amanda Forde, leader of the band Radikal, that some bands were assigned one officer while others had none, Reid countered: “If they had one, they had one too many! We are not paid to escort bands.
They had some bands with as many as 1 600 people; our force is only 1 400.” We are paid to police this whole country; we are the principal for law and order, from Crab Hill,St Lucy, to Bottom Bay in St. Philip and that is what we will continue to do.”

We’ll leave aside the implied admission that the RBPF is incapable of enforcing order on the Kadooment route for the moment. The mere fact that the band members can honestly make their complaint is an indication that the security situation on the road was not up to par.


Kadooment and Crop Over is a NATIONAL festival. Apart from the cultural aspects of it, there is significant economic activity and significant foreign exchange that flows into the country because of it. Poor security on road jeopardizes the future of the festival, as if people do not feel safe they simply will not take part, they will stay away in droves. there would be a measurable impact on the economy.


Not that this bothers Sargeant Reid….

“Furthermore, if they bring no bands next year, that will be better for us.We will smile and we will stay at home and rest with our families,” the outspoken Reid stated.

In fact the goodly Sargeant seems blissfully unbothered by the prospect of the festival being affected….


He said that in the 1960s a similar carnival-like event had been curtailed because Barbadians had abused the street parades. “If they stop it, this would not be the first time. It has been done before,” he said, recalling that a woman had even been set afire in a melee back then.

We can only hope that those further up the chain of command have a better view of the big picture on this.



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